Here at FEMA, we continually emphasize the importance of including and meeting the needs of the whole community. A principle foundation in emergency management is to continually take into account, understand, and support the needs of the entire community in the work that we do. It’s important for all of us to plan for the true, diverse makeup of our communities, and every day we make strides closer to achieving this goal.
With that in mind, we wanted to share the following story from the North Jersey/Bergen County Record, which captures how FEMA, through our disability integration specialists out in the field, work with all of our partners to ensure that we are fully including Americans with access and functional needs in all of our disaster planning, response and recovery efforts. Last week, Marcie Roth, Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, spoke about this work at a panel with other state and local emergency management partners:
"This is a priority. This is something we talk about on a regular basis," said Ridgewood Councilman Paul Aronsohn, who helped organize the event. "What we hope to do today is to really start a community-wide conversation, an opportunity to share lessons learned, things that work and don't work."
The community as a whole needs to come together to make sure everyone stays safe during a disaster, according to FEMA Regional Disability Integration Specialist James Flemming. Everyone has a stake in safety during times of emergency, and they need to work together to make the community as a whole better prepared, Flemming said.
"You know better than I what happened here when Hurricane Irene hit," he said. "That is not the time for people to hold onto their turf. That is not the time for people to say, 'Well that is not my job.’”
“FEMA, as well as other branches of government, are already reaching out to entire communities when making their preparations, according to Marcie Roth, director of FEMA's Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (OCDI). Modifying a plan then hanging it for people with disabilities will not adequately take into account everyone's needs, which can lead to dangerous situations in an emergency, including the death of residents who do not have the means for proper evacuation."
If we wait and plan for people with disabilities after we write the basic plan, we fail," Roth said, quoting FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. "It's time that children, people with disabilities, or any other segment of our communities who are traditionally underserved be more fully and consistently integrated into planning and preparedness on every level of government."
You can check out the full article here and encourage you to share it with others in your community. And if you have a good idea or approach for how we can be more inclusive, let us know. Leave a comment below or submit your idea to the FEMA Think Tank.